- Douglas, William Orville
- (1898-1981)The longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court, William Douglas was born in Maine, Minnesota, but his family moved to Washington, where he attended Whitman College. After briefly teaching in high school, he went to Columbia Law School, where he graduated in 1925. Douglas practiced law for a short time before accepting a teaching position at Yale law school. In 1934, he joined the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and became chairman in 1937. In 1939, he succeeded Louis D. Brandeis on the Supreme Court, where he became a strong defender of First Amendment rights of free speech. With Hugo Black, he opposed several decisions upholding convictions against left-wing groups during the McCarthy period. In 1953, he granted a stay of execution for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on a technicality relating to their sentence. However, his decision was overruled by Frederick Vinson, and there was a short-lived attempt to impeach Douglas for his action.Douglas did not have the impact on the court that he might have because, with Black, he was generally in the minority, and his dissenting opinions were often too hastily written to be memorable. In the 1960s, he found more liberal support in the court, but his colorful personal life (he was divorced three times), support for radical causes, and involvement in a private foundation led to a further but unsuccessful attempt to impeach him in 1970. He was a strong supporter of environmental causes, and in one case he held that inanimate objects such as trees had rights. He retired in 1975.
Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . Neil A. Wynn . 2015.